Surliness and the Seventh Grader

Daniel started 7th grade (OMG!) in person last month. I must confess that *I* may have been tad bit excited for it. In person! Not virtual! Maybe actual education and learning will be had! Getting back to routines! To be fair, Daniel was excited to return too, so lest you picture me doing excited pirouettes around my house after I dropped him off…well, you’d be correct.

But wow was it difficult returning to the grind and routine of school. What are school supplies? I have to pack a lunch? We need new clothes! School starts when? Where IS the school? That last item is not exactly an exaggeration. Last school year – sixth grade – would have been his first year in middle school, and we were unable to tour it in the spring of 2020 due to that little thing called COVID. Last year was spent virtual, and I think I personally went inside the school twice. Things are SO weird, but I don’t have to tell you all that.

We went to Meet the Teacher night as usual, and Daniel loved his teachers and the classrooms (seriously, they may have been the nicest, cleanest classrooms I have ever seen). I did have a moment of amusement because his Homeroom and English teacher listed the books she was reading, and I was stunned to see she is reading a novel by someone I know from the fanfiction realm. I sidled up to her and whispered, “do you know she writes fanfiction? She’s really good.” She did not know this, so I have sent her some links. Reeling them into the fandom one link at a time…

So here we are about to start week 4. It’s going well. Academically, things seem good, but the school has also continued with the limited/no homework policy, so I usually have no idea what D is working on unless he deigns to share. Like last week he rocked social studies, so I heard about that. Otherwise, it’s pulling teeth to get information. But from the teachers I have heard from, they like him a lot and appreciate his enthusiasm. I’ll take it. I’ve always wanted nothing more than for him to do his best, and after the last 18 months, if he is enjoying school and actually learning, that’s all that matters.

Socially…well, we all know middle school is hell. If middle school had been a concept when Dante was writing The Divine Comedy, I’m sure there would have been an entire level of hell dedicated to middle school. And with good reason.

Daniel was disappointed that a few of his closest friends from elementary school aren’t in any of his classes, but he does have a few other former classmates, so he is slowly (slowwwwlllllyyyy) getting over that disappointment. He hates gym, but who among us did not hate gym? He feels bad because he cannot do a push up, and I’m promising to help because one of my weird splinter skills (along with serving a volleyball) is doing push ups.

My child is a bit surly kind of a misanthrope. He informed me recently that HE is a man and the other students in the school are children, and he will not associate with them because they are less mature. OKKKK. I’m not sure what his definition of a “man” is, but this is where he and I butt heads because I want preciseness in language, so I do a lot of saying, “you are legally not an adult! There are laws about this!” I know this surliness is typical, but yeah, the next few years are going to be GREAT. And damn. I know I’m an introvert and joke about not liking people, but come on! I’m sort of proud, yet appalled? We have a lot of conversations about what is means to be polite socially even if you loathe the people around you. Sometimes our conversations – like much in the last 18 months – seem very surreal.

Ultimately, I spend a lot of time telling him that yes, middle school is hell and everyone is an asshole. Just do the best you can and ignore the ones that get on your nerves. That somehow seems like good advice (based on painful experience) and insufficient? I’m always reminded of a Teaching Fellows summer seminar I went on junior year. One of the keynote speakers was a middle school teacher and basically said this:

The students won’t like you or listen to you or their parents. They will only listen to their peers. They don’t care about school. But other than that, middle school is great!

Way to sell middle school!

We’re getting by. Yes, it’s only 4 weeks in, but I’m grateful he is back in school and that the district has a mask mandate (fairly red county and controversial, so I was pleasantly surprised). It is disconcerting to receive calls almost every day from the school about the latest positive COVID case. I told some friends that “deep disinfection and quarantining” is the COVID version of “thoughts and prayers.” And I’m grateful Daniel seems to be enjoying it or at least dealing with it. I’ve had the joy of experiencing afternoon pick up, and holy shit. I cannot believe how early people line up. I’ve taken entire meetings via Zoom on my phone on several occasions as I have waited to pick him up.

The first week of school, both water containers disappeared. Daniel was nonplussed (the current definition, not the definition I prefer). Then the second week, I saw his water container sitting on the bench outside the front of the school when I picked him up early. I guess it’s true what the say: “if you love someone (something) and set it free, if they come back to you it was meant to be.”

I’m all about signs these days, so I’ll take it in a water bottle.

Kindergartener in the House

Between the summer of 1999, the summer I graduated from college, and last year, I developed a disdain for summer vacation. At best it was childhood nostalgia. At worst, it was a slap in the face as the reality of an 8-5 workday and a small amount of vacation time became understood.

This summer, though, I rediscovered the point of summer vacation as Daniel’s Pre-K year ended.  It was a relief to have the school year over with its homework, frantic nightly routine, lunches to make, firm bedtime to meet. June 6 came, we made it through Pre-K graduation and exhaled, feeling the tension leave our bodies.  We filled Daniel’s summer with two different summer camps, afternoons with grandma and two beach trips. We all moved a little more slowly in the evenings.  If we were running late, we could adjust bedtime without difficulty or repercussion.  Our mornings started later, so we didn’t rush as much, could sleep in a bit and enjoy a commute without traffic. The slower speed was nice, and for the first time in many years, I felt like summer was defined.

Summer vacation ended on Monday of this week when Daniel started kindergarten.  Kindergarten is a milestone year, and I’m struggling to wrap my brain around how he can be a kindergartener already. Five is so old, yet so young (remind me to apply that some logic to myself in a few weeks when I turn 37. Doesn’t work the same way, does it?).

Daniel isn’t attending the same school for kindergarten that he did for Pre-K. We didn’t have the greatest year last year.  He learned a lot and met wonderful people, but at the end of the year – before that actually – it was clear the school wasn’t a good fit for him. We thought the routine and structure would be great, but it turned out that perhaps they depended too much on structure and routine and were too inflexible. There were a lot of expectations and pressure, pressure we all felt when he didn’t meet the expectations.  And at the end of the day (or year, rather), we felt as a family that it wasn’t right for so much pressure and anxiety to be placed on the still-small shoulders of a new 5-year-old.

So the school wasn’t a good fit for him–so what? Many more schools out there, and we’ll find one that fits, right? It’s not a big deal.

It is a little bit of a big deal. And the issues we had went a little beyond a too-rigid structure and to the fact that our little boy is baby square peg just like his Momma Square Peg and Daddy Square Peg. I bring it up because it was a pretty bad year and impacted all of us.  I cried a lot. We were short and frustrated with Daniel and with each other. We argued with teachers and administrators. We spent a lot of time on the phone and email. We felt like failures which I know had to make him feel like a failure, and he tried so hard. So very hard.

And we didn’t say anything. Couldn’t say anything because we were scared and worried and anxious. And angry. I was angry at the school, the world, everyone. I couldn’t post anything because I was and am trying to figure out how to give Daniel privacy and not stigmatize him in any way while at the same time, this is all we were thinking and talking about. And selfishly, I also worried about schadenfreude and whether others would revel in our difficulty (“that perfect KeAnne doesn’t have a perfect life after all!!” Ed. note: not that I ever claimed to). So that’s why I bring up the school change. Because it’s nothing, yet everything.

I have a LOT of feelings about it, especially how it contributed to my already not-great opinion on religion.  Jimmy has a LOT of feelings about it because it was his alma mater. That’s not important.  What is important is that Daniel is great.  He’s smart, sweet and funny as he’s always been. We enrolled him in a very small, private kindergarten taught by a wonderful teacher who adores him and understands that one size doesn’t fit all. The three of us have so much less anxiety, and that is such a good thing.  He is going to have a wonderful kindergarten year (even though he still refers to it as “work”).

Here’s to building a better hole for our square peg.

First Day of Kindergarten!

First Day of Kindergarten!